Review: Xiaomi Mi-2
The smartphone community has been mesmerized by a Chinese newcomer Xiaomi and its latest high-end Android phone, the Mi-2. Packed with an amazing set of newest hardware and priced about the half of its better-known counterparts it has quickly become a daydream of technocrats around the globe. In this review I will write sections as I use the phone more and test different aspects of it. I welcome you to visit the review later on to see more qualities of it covered.
What is Xiaomi?
Xiaomi was established in 2010 as an Internet company focusing on the research and development of high-end smart phones. Its founder and CEO, Lei Jun, dresses like Steve Jobs did, wearing blue jeans and a black shirt. However, Xiaomi has even more Apple-like qualities. Its fans are fanatic – some take the day off from work when Xiaomi releases its newest product so that they could get it among the first. They have also successfully built up demand through exclusivity and scarcity. Unlike the large Chinese manufacturers, like Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei that co-operate with the carriers and sell massive quantities, Xiaomi sells “small” amounts online. Mi Phone, the Mi-2 predecessor, tallied $2 billion sales in a year. As Lei put it: “We’re not a company that chases sales volume. We chase customer satisfaction. We look for ways to give the customer a great surprise.” Xiaomi has also introduced Xiaomi Box, a $48 AirPlay-compliant Apple TV competitor.1, 2, 3
Xiaomi priced the Mi-2 really competitively in the beginning, giving it a $300 price tag. Once they realized that there was an immense demand for it and they supposedly had difficulties to deliver it, they decided to increase its price to $400. Even so, it is way cheaper than its rivals, for example Samsung Galaxy SIII and iPhone 5.
The full Mi-2 specifications can be found on the Internet but here is a list of the most relevant, in my opinion.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset
- 1.5 GHz quad-core Krait processor
- Adreno 320 GPU
- 2 GB RAM
- 4.3″ 1280×720 IPS touchscreen made by Sharp (342 ppi)
- 8 MP camera sensor with a wide-angle (27mm) and large aperture (2.0) lens
- 8 MP stills @ 8fps
- 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @ 90fps
- 2 MP front camera
- MIUI open source UI layer on top of Android
The box is made out of ecological non-bleached carton and it gives an impression of an exquisite product. The contents are nicely and tightly packed. Besides the phone itself, there are an electricity plug, USB cable, 2,000 mAh battery, a quick installation/setup guide and a warranty leaflet. The quick setup guide and the warranty leaflet are in Chinese.
The Mi-2 chassis is really solid, sturdy and well built. My concern was that it would feel cheap and it would squeak and rattle when used. No such qualities whatsoever. The back cover is really tight, it was even difficult to get it open for inserting the SIM card and the battery. Notice that the Mi-2 has a regular size SIM card slot unlike many others in the same generation, such as Samsung Galaxy SIII and iPhone 5. Also, there is no memory card slot so you need to manage with the onboard memory (16/32 GB, depending on the model). As savo pointed out in the comments, the front is not covered with Gorilla Glass but rather a full Dragontrail glass. The back has a glossy finish and it is up to you if it looks like cheap or expensive. I found it rather pleasing.
The physical dimensions are less than I expected. In the photo below, the Mi-2 is between Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy SIII. And its size is also in-between. I have small hands so I am very pleased with it and it can be operated with one hand.
I have (accidentally) dropped the phone
four five times to the floor and it has survived all of them perfectly. One fall was from the weist-height to stone floor and the phone slided face down on the stone. Luckily there were no scratches at all! No matter how carefully and gently I try to handle my mobile phones, I always end up dropping them multiple times to the ground/floor.
Dragontrail vs. Gorilla Glass
Xiaomi does not use the de-facto standard display cover, Gorilla Glass, made by the American company Corning. Instead, they have chosen Dragontrail, a super strong and scratch resistant glass made by Japanese Asashi Glass Company. Gorilla Glass was first used in the original iPhone which was launched in 2007 and has since been used in over 280 products, according to Ticonderoga Securities. Apple, Nokia, Samsung, HTC, LG and Motorola are among the manufacturers who have relied on Gorilla Glass.
Dragontrail is an alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass that gives great strength and thinness. According to Asashi Glass Company 1 mm thick glass bears 60 kg (132 lbs) of weight. In my opinion it is very pleasant to use, very slick and smooth. And it looks great. You can take a look at Dragontrail’s strength and scratch resistance in the videos below.
When you first boot the device it will greet you in Chinese. Luckily you may choose English as a UI language. Next is the setup of a Xiaomi Account which you can skip. Then it asks about your data plan and the reset day that can be handy if you have a moderate data limit. Other services option covers enabling location services and joining the user experience program. Finally it thanks you and greets you with the home screen.
The first thing you want to do is to install Google Play. It is prohibited in China and therefore missing from all the Chinese Androids. Just hit the magnifier and type “Play” and it will appear in the top search results.
I was worried about the keyboard layout that default to Chinese. Fortunately as Mi-2 is an Android device it supports all kinds of keyboard layouts. You can change it in Settings → System → Language & input → Keyboard & Input Methods → Default. Just select a layout of your choice and mark it as default.
There are reports of fake Mi-2’s being sold so the very first thing for me was to make sure I have the real deal in my hands.
The free AnTuTu Benchmark has Mi-2 as a clear champion of the newest smartphones. CNET Asia recently tested Mi-2‘s graphic abilities against HTC One X+ and Samsung Galaxy SIII using the free GLBenchmark. They got 2851 frames yielding 25 fps while the competition got 18 and 15 fps respectively. I was surprised when I tested mine: it gave me a staggering 4517 frames @ 40 fps. I don’t know what happened there. The third benchmark software I tried was Geekbench which cost a dollar. Geekbench 2 gave my Mi-2 a score of 1887. That tops the averages of iPhone 5 and Galaxy SIII. I am pretty convinced that I am holding a genuine piece of art.
Where to Buy?
As you may well know it is really difficult to find a Mi-2 you could buy. There were over three million pre-orders of it and they released just a 50,000 batch in the beginning leaving the smartphone community starving. I was lucky enough to find a reliable seller on eBay and he delivered my one Mi-2 in three weeks from ordering. And one week of the three was wasted by Fedex when my package travelled across Europe. You can also try to find one in FastCardTech or Merimobiles.
Please see the Xiaomi Mi-2 Camera Review.
The Mi-2 comes with a 2,000 mAh battery. Based on my two-month usage, the battery lasts a day, even with heavy usage. The battery can not be charged 100% full with any USB port on a computer or an older micro-USB charger. My desktop computer or old Nokia chargers do not provide enough current so the battery level will remain at 93%, no matter how long will you keep it connected. My MacBook Air evidently provides more amps to the USB ports because it will always charge the battery 100% full.
Here is an example of my normal day. I unplugged my phone from the charger at 06am. I made phone calls during the day for about 1,5 hours worth. The screenshots are taken at 10pm when there was 37% of battery remaining, I did not charge it during the day.
Mi-2 comes with some Chinese apps pre-installed. Xiaomi/Mi/MIUI Market is a Chinese equivalent of Google Play, however you can find some Western software there too. Unfortunately Mi Market has some (outdated) pirated versions of paid apps that may include spyware/malware so although you may be tempted to install some paid apps from there for free, my advice is that stay away from Mi Market, you’ll never know what infection you’ll get in the process. MiTalk is an instant messaging solution that you can install to other Android phones via Google Play and to iPhones via App Store. I have not personally tried it because virtually all of my friends now have either Facebook Messenger or Google Talk installed on their smartphones. Notes is a Post-It™ type app where you can write various notes to yourself. It is integrated with the call recorder so while you are talking and recording the conversation, you may simultaneously type notes related to that call. You can also set a timed alarm and attach photos or contact cards to the notes. It can be very handy.
The Weather app that comes pre-installed looks really good but unfortunately it supports only Chinese cities. The Game Center has a vast amount of games available, literally thousands of games. I assume if not all, the majority of them are free. However, they all seem to be in Chinese so they are no good unless you can read and understand Chinese. Data Usage is a built-in traffic monitor where you can set your data plan and the start date for your billing cycle when cumulative data transfer figures are reset.
One of the MIUI features that I absolutely love is the instant Torch. You don’t have to unlock the phone and tap on a torch app but instead just grab your phone, activate the screen (by pressing power button) and long-press the Home button and the flashlight will be lit immediately! It is so handy and I have used it a lot.
Another really handy built-in application is the voice recorder, you may even record phone calls with it! Unlike the other apps, this does not beep annoyingly and constantly in the background but is perfectly silent during the call. The call record list is neatly organized by dates and recipients’ names. You don’t have to decide if you would like to record a phone conversation before you dial but in the phone call screen (see above) you can easily access the record button with two taps. In addition to recording phone calls you may also use it for dictation to be later revisited or transcribing the dictation.
The included Baidu Map app is a China and Chinese only so it is of no good outside China. Another Chinese only app is I’m QQ 2012 communication suite. It is sort of like Skype and there is also “international edition” available, although I don’t know if anyone outside China uses it. Built-in is also a popular Chinese microblogging service Sina Weibo which is a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook. It was launched in 2009 and as of late 2012 had over 500 million registered users. There are also Anti-Spam and Anti-Virus software that I have not used. The Anti-Virus software comes from a partner company Tencent. Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun was Tencent’s CEO before founding Xiaomi. Voice Assistant is similar to Apple’s Siri but unfortunately it understands only Chinese. For cloud backup there is built-in support for KuaiPan in the file browser. There is 15 GB space for backups but I have not personally tried it.
MIUI is a custom user interface layer on top of Android, originally developed by Xiaomi and recently by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. MIUI is closed-source and is still heavily endorsed by Xiaomi. The official MIUI website is here and the unofficial UK-based fan website here.
Long-press to exit apps. Long-press Home to clean up memory.
music player, themes
– No memory card slot
– GPS fix can take time
– Skype voice calls do not work
– Some texts are not translated to English
– Email is sent twice
To Be Continued…